El Chino waited inside his car, a champagne colored Lincoln Continental SUV. It was not the most unnoticeable vehicle in the world, but it would have to do. The other alternative was to have Aarón follow the ambulance in the shuttle, which was even more noticeable. Besides, if the shuttle followed the ambulance, who would pick up the people in the terrorist compound?
After receiving Archie’s call, the corpulent bolita boss had left his soft spoken subordinate in charge of the shuttle, and headed for his car.
He had read about people having adventures like the one he was about to have, and even watched some car chases in some of the telenovelas that he watched. But never in a thousand years had he imagined that he would end up playing a role in one of those scenes.
He chuckled to himself as he remembered Aarón’s discomfited expression when he had learned that he would have to stay in the shuttle alone with the two prisoners they had tied to the back of the bus. Aarón was a gentle soul, not cut out for adventure.
But he would be all right. The men were securely fastened, and would not be able to budge from where they were. Besides, Aarón would probably be driving back to the terrorist compound in less than an hour, where the others would take care of the captured terrorists.
To reassure the shy man, El Chino had offered him the Glock 19 that one of the SWAT officers had given to him. Aarón had stared at the gun as if it were an animal about to bite him, and after El Chino had tried to show him how to use it, had slightly shaken his head and thanked him.
“I’ll probably shoot myself by accident,” he had told his boss. “You keep it. Besides, you may need it to defend yourself.”
Reluctantly, El Chino had kept the weapon, placing it on his lap when he sat in his car.
The bolita boss stared at his watch.
Any moment now.
He had moved his SUV to the retirement home’s parking exit and left it on idle, with its lights off.
The obese man did not feel nervous. There was little risk in what he was about to do, and it would probably prove to be a lot of fun. Also, he wanted to bring all of the terrorists to justice.
Not that he was a law and order fanatic. In fact, it was the first time that he had worked on the side of the police. Negrón and the two SWAT officers had made him nervous, and he had consciously avoided talking to them—except for the SWAT corporal that had given him the gun. And then, the corporal had done so at his own initiative, and they had exchanged only a few words.
However, he hated violence. What those men had done, killing so many innocent people, was simply evil. They all deserved to be caught and separated permanently from the rest of humanity.
And if he could help to do that, that would be just fine.
Two headlights coming from the mountains appeared on the road snaking in his direction. Ten seconds later, the ambulance that had driven out of the terrorist compound, the one Archie had warned him about, zipped past the retirement home’s entrance.
“Okay,” El Chino muttered to himself. “Here we go.”
* * *
Nabil had stopped looking into the rear view mirror of his ambulance after the first ten minutes of escaping from the compound, finally convinced that they were not being followed. He looked at Javid, who was driving in a sullen, brooding mood.
“Are you all right?” Nabil asked his companion.
Javid took a long time to answer.
“You made me drive over the wounded. Our own wounded!” he said in an accusatory tone.
Nabil stared guiltily out the window.
“We had to do it. We had no choice. Even with those extreme measures, we will only be using one of the two ambulances we were supposed to have parked in front of the police station.”
Javid maintained a moody silence. “So what are we supposed to do now?” he asked Nabil.
“What do you mean?”
“Where do we go? What do we do?”
Nabil considered the question, then said, “We need to call Enrique.”
* * *
“This is Clark Maisonnet,” Enrique said as he answered his cell phone, noting from the phone number that it was Nabil.
He was in The Orange Tree Cafe, at the El Isla Verde Hotel, having a late dinner with the rest of his crew. He and the others had checked into the hotel just a few minutes before.
“Maisonnet,” the Palestinian said, “this is Arturo.”
“Oh, hi Arturo,” Enrique replied, raising an eyebrow and directing a humorous look at those sitting around him. “What’s up?”
“There has been a…a breach in the house.”
Nour, sitting across the table, leaned closer to Enrique, while Rosario, nibbling on a potato chip, leaned back and placed an arm behind her backrest. The others listened intently.
“Yes, yes.. I and…and…David, had leave in only one of the vehicles, since there was no time to fix the other,” Nabil answered in a mortified tone.
“A serious breach, then. Do you know by whom?” Enrique asked, his entertained expression changing to one of peeved concern.
“Not the police,” Nabil blurted out, before realizing he was no longer masking his words. “Sorry, not the official guardians. But some in the house said that the intervention was led by Alfaro.”
“Alfaro? What Alfaro?” Enrique repeated, sitting up straighter in his chair.
This time, it was Rosario who reacted, stopping his chewing and listening with interest.
“You know, the one in the picture, the picture you showed to everyone before our visit to the capitol. Ja…David and I had to leave quickly, in order not to be delayed by Alfaro and his friends, if it is in fact Alfaro. I left the others to entertain him.”
Enrique paused, the wheels in his brain churning furiously.
How had Alfaro found them? Did he know about his group as well? Had he somehow followed Da’ud’s fake ambulance? How many others were with him, to have prompted Nabil and Javid to abandon the compound with only half their job done?
“You did fine,” he said finally to Nabil.
“What shall we do?” the Palestinian asked his boss, unable to conceal his nervousness. “Do I deliver the surprise package tonight?”
“You’re certain you have not been followed?” Enrique said. “I don’t want the surprise party spoiled.”
“Nobody followed us from the house,” Nabil assured him earnestly. “I made certain of that.”
“Good. Our surprise party stays the same. Deliver the package tomorrow, early in the morning. Make sure it will be well received.”
Nabil said nothing for several seconds, as if trying to make out what his boss was saying. Then he replied, “It will be done as you command,” and finished the call.
“What is it?” Rosario immediately asked his boss.
Enrique motioned his associate with his hand to lower his voice. “It seems,” he whispered, “that the compound has been attacked.”
His statement was received with quiet shock.
“The police?” José Ramón asked.
“No, you idiot,” Rosario said to the Spaniard before Enrique could respond. “Alfaro, right?”
Hassam frowned, while Nour digested the news with a neutral face.
“Alfaro? Alone?” José Ramón asked with surprise.
“Obviously not,” Rosario answered. “We had over three dozen men__”
Enrique motioned him to pause as a waiter approached their table.
“Are you up to some dessert?” the waiter inquired, his tone reflecting total disinterest.
“We are in the middle of__” Rosario began to answer irritatedly, but Enrique cut him off.
“I would like a double espresso,” Enrique answered.
The waiter lingered for additional orders, and when none came, wandered away.
“The attack on the compound does not worry me. It is evident that our presence here is untraceable…” the terrorist leader continued, looking at José Ramón. “It is, isn’t it?”
“I made the reservations, both for the hotel and the flights, through my personal computer, which I have here with me,” the Spaniard answered, tapping the attaché case that was leaning against his chair.
“Good,” Enrique said. “And we really don’t care about the men we left behind. They are all expendable.”
“Yes,” Rosario insisted. “Hopefully, you’re right, and we can’t be traced back to here…or the airport tomorrow. But we were not supposed to be traced back to the compound either, and somehow, Alfaro found us.”
“If it was, in fact, Alfaro,” Enrique observed.
“Right, because I think the man has been highly overrated,” Rosario stated.
“This ‘overrated’ man killed Czecka, Daniel, and San Miguel,” Nour said, breaking her silence with a mocking smile.
“If he was the one who killed them, which I doubt,” Rosario insisted. “Remember, I am the only one here who has seen the man up close. He did not impress me at all. I think his…let’s say his ‘fighting prowess’ has been grossly exaggerated by the press.”
Nour chuckled, saying nothing.
“What, you really believe what they say about the man?” Rosario asked her with a hostile sneer.
“It’s a shame you won’t be able to verify it, isn’t it?” the Egyptian taunted. “You’re probably glad you won’t have to.”
“Why you little shit, I could take him__”
“Enough,” Enrique said. “We won’t become engaged in useless, wasteful arguments.” He looked at Da’ud. “What matters most is the package we sent to Washington. You saw the stretcher being loaded into the plane?”
“I did,” the bald, bearded Arab confirmed. “The plane must have taken off shortly after I left. It must be arriving in Washington within the next hour.”
Enrique nodded. “That, my friends, is what matters. That is what will make us famous. No matter what they did at the compound, no matter if Alfaro was a part of it or not, when the device goes off, nothing else will matter.”
“Well,” said Hassam, speaking for the first time, “except for our getting off this damned island before the hurricane strikes.”
“Yes,” Enrique agreed. “Except for that. So for the time being, we wait for the news from Washington. Then, we relax.”
* * *
Dennis Martínez had been a pilot for twenty two years, first flying small commercial twin engine airplanes to the islands close to Puerto Rico, then F/A-18 Hornet fighter-bombers during the post 9/11 fighting in Afghanistan. And after retiring from the Navy, he had worked for NASA for two years, and then settled into the easier, less demanding position of main pilot for the AmbuAir transportation services.
During his extended career as a flyer, Martínez had experienced all sorts of events, from taking flak from an anti-aircraft missile fired by the Taliban in a bombing mission near Kabul, to actually having both of his propeller engines quit as he was about to land in Tortola and having to glide into the landing strip. He had never, however, flown in a hazmat suit carrying a patient—a boy, no less—infected with the ebola virus.
And the Governor of Puerto Rico was one of his passengers.
Usually, AmbuAir would fly with its own paramedics. But this was an unusual case. The less people exposed to the virus, the better. So the paramedics that had come in the ambulance would be the same people flying with him to Washington.
Martínez had been about to finish his pre-flight checklist, when to his chagrin, his copilot, Emanuel Alvarez, had discovered that the front landing light of the aircraft was not working. By the time the light had been replaced, tested, and certified by an FAA licensed aircraft technician, the flight had been delayed for more than two hours.
In his experience, it was usually the family or the friends of the patient who grew impatient with a delay. This time, Martínez had noted, it had been the paramedics who had seemed more anxious in leaving.
The Governor had accepted the pilot’s explanation of what was keeping them from taking off, staying most of the time by his son’s side. However it had been the paramedics--particularly the taller and thinner of the two--who had kept badgering him about when the technical problem would be fixed, and how much longer it would be before they left.
The tall paramedic had even leaned out of the Learjet’s open door at least a couple of times, and looked suspiciously into the night, as if trying to spot unseen movement.
The two medical men had seemed very relieved when the company’s mechanic had finished his work, and the plane’s hatch had been shut.
Martínez could not blame them for their desire to leave. The sooner they’d finish accompanying the patient infected with the ebola virus, the less chances of contagion there would be.
However, the paramedics were very well protected by their bio hazard suits, and the boy was sedated and enclosed in a plastic bubble. Plus, they were after all hospital people, more used to dealing with infectious diseases.
More used than him, anyway.
* * *
The ambulance drove slowly through the Hato Rey area, San Juan’s financial district, as if looking for a spot where to park. It made it difficult for El Chino to follow it, since at that time of the night, and with a hurricane threatening to arrive within the next twenty four hours, there were not that many cars circulating on the streets.
Twice El Chino moved behind a parked vehicle, while the ambulance slowed to a crawl. Finally, though, it seemed to find a place where to stop, driving by the Police Headquarters, then turning left into a residential area, and finally coming to a halt in a dead end street.
El Chino searched for the name of the road. AntárticaStreet, a sign read. Having hung back in order not to be seen, he nearly missed the ambulance’s last stop as it veered into a short alley, only catching a glimpse of its red brake lights as he drove past them.
Not to be obvious, El Chino continued driving further down AntárticaStreet, and then did a U-turn, parking in front of one of the residences in the area. From there, he had a direct view of the exit of the dead end street into which the ambulance had entered, and would see it if it tried to drive out.
He opened his window and turned off his engine.
It was late in the night, but somebody in the second floor of the house next to him was watching television, and the dubbed Spanish words of what sounded like a detective series filtered through a window. The staccato chords of a Law and Order SVU episode confirmed his suspicions seconds later, making him grin with pleasure.
Taking out his cell phone, he called Archie.
(Chapter LI will be posted on Thursday, October 15)